Shani Crowe will be the first to admit that she’s been braiding hair “forever.”

The 28-year-old was the genius behind Solange Knowles’ stunning crown on Saturday Night Live and a Saint Heron event. But before all the large-scale attention, the Chicago native was braiding, creating sculptures and shooting photography.

“I used to be kind of like the unofficial documentarian of everything that happened in my friend group from like high school and college to beyond,” she told ESSENCE.

“I come from a family of artists too. My dad’s an illustrator and photographer and he’s a historian by trade but he’s always been an artist. He paints with watercolor, he does a lot of watercolor work. Most of what I do is drawing and is sculptural work but then I’ve always braided and I’ve always saw braiding as something that was separate from my artistic repertoire but I put just as much artistry into the braids that I do.”

Crowe had the privilege of showing her work at Art Basel’s SCOPE exhibit and Creme of Nature’s Entwine event in Miami last week. Surrounded by large-scale black-and white-photographs of women with intricate braids, the Howard University graduate shared how she made the leap from taking the photos to showcasing her work for the world.

“My goal was around $3,000 and that was a really modest estimate at the time,” she said about using a funding platform that matches donations. “It took a minute but near the end of my campaign people donated and I made the $3,000 that I needed. And then people just started to support me in ways that I didn’t realize I needed, but were just monumental and me being able to create this work.”

Over the past year she’s been featured in ESSENCE, W, Allure and The New York Times —in addition to having an exhibit at Brooklyn’s MoCADA. But for this interdisciplinary artist, this is just the beginning.

“I’m going to Ghana in February,” she said. “I have so many more concepts for exceptional-grade photography, exceptional-grade art that I will capture as photograph and I really want to do a book.”

“I want to go to different regions in Africa, learn their traditional braid techniques and then also talk to the women who are braiders about how having a trade or being entrepreneur has changed their life.”

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